Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed will address the nation on Tuesday after two key states rejected an extension of his term in office and the prime minister asked the country to prepare for elections, whose delay has led to the worst political violence in Mogadishu for years.
Civilians have fled their homes in the Somali capital following renewed clashes between rival factions in the security forces, which have split in a dispute over the two-year extension to the term of Mohamed, who is better known as Farmaajo.
Tensions have been high since February when Farmaajo’s four-year term ended before fresh elections were held amid disagreements over how to proceed with the polls. The president accused regional leaders over the impasse but his opponents accused him of refusing to leave office.
Earlier this month, Somalia’s lower house of parliament voted to extend Farmaajo’s term, but the Senate rejected the move. Still, the president signed into the law the contentious measure extending his mandate and promised elections within two years.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble rejected the extension shortly after the leaders of two federal states, erstwhile allies of the president, issued a joint statement calling for the cancellation of the term extension.
“I welcome the statement issued by Galmudug and Hirshabelle states,” said the prime minister, who also called for preparations for a new presidential election and a beefing up of security arrangements.
The presidential term extension has also angered foreign donors, who have backed Farmaajo’s government in an attempt to bring stability to a country that has been racked by civil war since 1991.
Months of United Nations-backed talks failed to overcome the election impasse, and the dispute turned violent on Sunday as forces loyal to the president traded gunfire with fighters allied to his political rivals.
Many soldiers in Somalia’s armed forces owe their loyalties to clan militias which have often battled each other for power and resources.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all parties to refrain from further violence while the United States, a key ally, warned of sanctions if negotiations for elections do not urgently resume.
Police said on Monday that three people – two police officers and one opposition soldier – were killed in the skirmishes.
The opposition – which included soldiers from the national army fighting for opposition leaders from their own clans – controls parts of the city, with roads barricaded and territory guarded by trucks mounted with machine guns.
It has raised fears that al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters could exploit a security vacuum as state forces turn on each other.
‘Fear for our lives’
Tensions remained high on Tuesday as families in some Mogadishu districts began evacuating their homes, piling their belongings into rickshaws or donkey carts ahead of a feared return to violence.
“This is a horrible situation Mogadishu is facing today. People are fleeing their houses because of this increased military tension,” said Said Ali, a witness.
Residents in Siigaale, a neighbourhood in southern Mogadishu, said opposition reinforcements arrived overnight and had taken up positions not far from government troops.
“We fear for our lives … We have decided to get out of here before it is too late,” said Shamis Ahmed, a mother of five who abandoned her home.
“This morning, we were surprised to see more well-armed pro-opposition troops have settled in this area of Siigaale, they told us to move,” said Abdullahi Mohamed, a local elder.
The UN Mission in Somalia said it was “alarmed” by clan divisions within the Somali National Army and warned the political conflict distracted from the battlefield where al-Shabab fighters are waging a deadly uprising.
“Use of security forces for pursuit of political objectives is unacceptable,” UNSOM said in a statement.
‘On the precipice’
The country has not had an effective central government since the collapse of a military regime in 1991 led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.
Mogadishu, one of the few parts of the country under central government control, has not seen street combat on this scale for years and the conflict has dangerously sharpened clan divisions, observers say.
In a briefing published on Tuesday, the International Crisis Group think-tank said that external intervention is needed to prevent further fighting between rival actors.
“The African Union (AU), which has signalled that it will name a Somalia envoy to mediate efforts over the stalled election cycle, should move forward on this with speed, and get efforts to bridge the chasm between [the president] Farmajo and the opposition started as quickly as possible,” it said, adding that it should focus on initiating a ceasefire.
“International actors must signal a willingness to punish spoilers, including through targeted sanctions.
“External actors who pursue narrow bilateral interests by backing certain factions within Somalia further risk tipping the balance toward implosion.
“The US, possibly through its newly appointed special envoy to the Horn, should lean on all outside powers to press for de-escalation,” it said.